The Path to Somewhere
The Parent Practice is delighted with the response of our two screenings of “Race to Nowhere” earlier this month. If you attended a screening, we hope you enjoyed it. If you weren’t there, we thought you might like to hear how the screenings went!
If you’re unfamiliar with “Race to Nowhere”, it is an American documentary that explores the pressures today’s children are under to succeed. While the film is American in content, the themes are absolutely universal, and as we saw from the speed with which the tickets sold, it seems the concerns are shared by many parents in the UK.
While some children are able to thrive with pressure placed upon them by schools and extracurricular activities, there are also many that aren’t able to deal as well. This film tells their stories. It raises so many questions: the benefits of standardised testing and early years’ homework, getting into the ‘best’ school versus a school where that particular child may be better able to flourish, and redefining success.
We had initially planned on holding only one screening at Channel 4, and were bowled over by the overwhelming response which had that screening sell out within hours – and almost crash our website! The waitlist quickly grew, so we decided to host a second screening at the Clapham Picture House. Overall, the film screened to over 150 people. Both screenings were followed by a 30 minutes panel discussion which was led by Elaine Halligan of The Parent Practice, and included Bonnie Harris M.S. Ed, the author of the series of parenting books including What To Do When Kids Push Your Buttons; Heather Hanbury, Headteacher at Wimbledon High School; Charles Bonas, Educational Consultant & Commentator; Sue Kumleben, Facilitator with the Parent Practice, Holli Rubin (Psychotherapist), and Philippa Jackson (Headteacher of Hollymount School).
From the panel discussion, and conversations afterwards, it was apparent that all the parents attending have a clear awareness of the challenges and pressures their children face within today’s education system. There is a collective sense of helplessness – many parents feel they are on a treadmill, and that if they decide to step off, they have in some way failed their children, despite knowing instinctively it may be the best thing for them!
Although our audience was just a small sample of parents, it was clear to us that that there is a considerable increase in parents’ concerns about how their children are coping at school. At the same time, many parents don’t believe they possess the appropriate knowledge, confidence or courage to support their children through school, and make the most appropriate choices for them.
If anyone is interested in hosting their own screening of the film we are happy to support you in doing so. It looks like there will be 2 or 3 more screenings in the London area this spring/summer.
We feel really thrilled to have brought this film to London and look forward to seeing what impact it will have for parents and educators alike. Some changes have already started to happen! A few days after the first screening, Wimbledon High School’s Headteacher blogged that:
“We should beware of ‘over-scheduling’ children’s lives: students need time just to ‘be’, to play, to ‘hang out’ – it’s something we believe in strongly at WHS. Within our new timetable, which I am announcing soon as part of the outcome of the curriculum review, there will be more time at lunchtime to do just that. I want our students to enjoy extra-curricular clubs for their own sake, not in order, as they get older, to tick boxes on a UCAS (university entrance) form. I do think that busy teenagers are often the happiest. Those with interests and hobbies will gain confidence which will help them academically as much as socially. But those interests have to come from the girls themselves – we can’t and shouldn’t push them.
True to our Parent Practice ethos, we have decided to be part of the solution as well, and to focus our minds and resources on creating a response for parents. We are in the process of developing a workshop, which has a working title of ‘The Path To Somewhere’. This workshop will look at how we can re-define success, and how we can empower our children with appropriate life-skills so they can thrive within whichever school environment best suits them.
So, stay tuned … it looks like something exciting may be starting to happen, and we’re proud to be part of it! And in the meantime, we’ll let you know when ‘Path to Somewhere’ is ready to launch!
If you’re curious to know more about the film, please take a look at www.racetonowhere.com.
22/03/2011 No Comments
It is Valentine’s day and of course our thoughts turn to love – but what if the love we’re pondering is our children’s love …and it’s not ourselves that are the object of their affection but some spotty youth! When our children fall in love what’s the parent’s role, or do we even have one? Have we been totally eclipsed, put out to pasture, past our use-by date? Ok, all clichés to one side, I suppose it depends when your child is smitten with Eros’s arrow. If your ‘child’ is of an age that you think is too young for love, and for fathers of daughters this may be any age up to about 30, then what? When is too young for love and what does love mean at different ages? A 7 year old child may declare themselves to be in love or to have a girlfriend and when questioned this turns out to mean that they are prepared to swap sandwiches at lunchtime . A ten year old may be very keen on a member of the opposite sex and this manifests itself by them calling the object of their affection names and tweaking their hair. By 13 your child may have reached such heights of sophistication that they are now prepared to acknowledge that there is a point to girls/boys and they may really fancy one, but would rather die than admit it to the other. Or you may find that the child who has come over for a ‘playdate’ is making you question what sort of play they had in mind! If you think your child is too young for an exclusive relationship then tell them so without making them wrong or making fun of them and encourage them to be friends with lots of people.
We might think the idea of our children being in love is cute until we see them holding hands or sneaking a kiss and then we decide we need to have some boundaries! Where each parent draws a boundary will depend on their own value system and upbringing and it is worth discussing the rules with them when the other young person is not present. I remember being mortified by my grandfather insisting that my bedroom door had to be kept open when my boyfriend came over. In a household of 7 people there was nowhere else but my room to go for any peace and quiet. Some of the guidelines they may need are about how to behave with integrity and respect towards the opposite sex.
And what if said spotty youth seems totally unsuitable? Just as we can’t choose our children’s friends we certainly can’t choose their boyfriends and girlfriends and we risk alienating them if we try. Assuming we’re talking about a teenager now they are in the process of working out their identity and choosing their friends is an important part of that. You can and should have rules about how they conduct themselves in your house but you can’t dictate who they decide to give their affections to. Trust that the values you’ve been passing on to them since they were small have been taken on board. You may not share their taste and you may question their judgment but a parent’s role at this point is a more backseat one. There is no doubt that the first boyfriend/girlfriend can make a parent question their own relationship with their child. They have moved on to the next phase of their lives –friendships have taken on a different meaning and a parent may feel a bit usurped. It’s important not to take this as a rejection –they still need you.
And what of unrequited love or some other kind of hurt? What do you do when your precious child has been dumped by text message or on facebook? A common phenomenon in these days of social networking. Just as when they were being teased as a small child your first instinct may be to rush in and try to sort things out for them but we need to put the brakes on and work out how to support them more subtly. They need us above all to be there for them, to listen and to comfort. They do not need to be told there are plenty of other fish in the sea and how you didn’t like him anyway or how he could do better than that girl. Try to remember what it feels like to be hurt in love – but don’t tell them about all your experiences –just empathise. They will need to know that they are worthwhile but not by telling them that there’s nothing wrong with them (apart from their taste in girls/boys) and the only way they will believe any words of encouragement from a parent at this point is if those words are completely believable –that means sincere and descriptive.
15/02/2011 No Comments
Do you as a parent have the experience of getting your children into bed and then keeping them there throughout the night as a regular waking nightmare! For many parents preventing their children from waking up and disturbing their own sleep or the sleep of siblings can be a huge problem…..when your kids are teens then this ceases to be a problem as they will then struggle to get out of bed. Such is the developmental pattern of behaviour – life is cruel!
Children and parents need their sleep and we also need to have some time to ourselves in the evening if we are to ensure we are not functioning purely as a C.R.U….. a child rearing unit with no time to nurture adult relationships.
Why do parents experience the issue with bed hopping and bedtime battles? The answer often lies with us, as we as parents can often be so inconsistent that inadvertently our children end up training us to reward the behaviour we don’t want e.g. by allowing them into our bed in the middle of the night. There of course may be other practical issues such as needing the toilet; being scared of the dark; finding it hard to settle in the evening and putting themselves to sleep.
The solutions are plentiful:
- Decide with your partner or if a single parent with anyone who is regularly involved with putting the kids to bed, what your values are around bedtime; create rules and ensure there are meaningful rewards and consequences attached
- Establish your evening routine so that it is conducive to the kids winding down; sitting in bed for stories; playing a quiet game after bath; PJ’s and teeth brushing routine. Make the whole routine positive using masses of descriptive praise and no criticising; nagging or shouting. Try not to encourage rough and tumble at this time of day as this can make some children more excitable
- Alternate which parent puts the children to bed, otherwise they become dependent on one parent and start calling the shots!
- Ensure your bedtime rules are as detailed as possible – “Going to bed nicely” is too general. Ask the question what does this look like and make it detailed. Each of these below amounts to a rule around bedtime:
- Have 2 stories
- Do a wee if need to
- Get into your own bed
- Kiss mummy and /or Daddy goodnight
- Say everything you need to say…have your bedtime chat and may need a time limit for this
- Turn out the light and say “ goodnight, see you in the morning”
- Don’t stay in the room till your child falls asleep, or he will not be able to sleep without your presence and inadvertently you have created a dependency.
- If your child is scared, don’t tell her not to be afraid or that she’s too big to be worrying about monsters and the like. Really listen to her feelings and empathise….and try and help her understand what she is feeling. “It can be scary if you wake up in the night and everyone else is asleep. Maybe you feel lonely”. Once our children feel that we are listening and understand they are much more able/willing to listen to solutions.
- A great Health Visitor friend of mine recommends introducing your child to an anchor which they can reach out and use if indeed they are scared of monsters in the dark. Arm them with an empty plastic pump spray bottle armed with imaginary “anti – monster juice” so they can reach out in the middle of the night and zap the monster away.
- Discuss with your children strategies they can use if indeed they wake during the night to help them get back to sleep. Have reward stickers that build up around the head board of the bed or on a sticker chart so she can earn rewards for each stage of the “going to bed” proceedings. Gives her the message she is being successful and is capable
- The sleep fairy is also a lovely idea….she fills during the day a favourite teddy bear with all the sleep needed to ensure the child has the tools to sleep at night. If progress has been made and he only got out of bed twice compared to 6 times the previous night the sleep fairy will visit in the night and leave a small note or token of how happy she is the child is making progress and getting into better bedtime habits. This token can be anything that tickles you child from a special stone; a pretty flower; a piece of lego; a conker? You are the experts in your children and what motivates them but the sleep fairy does not spend any money and uses her creativity and imagination to reward.
- In the early days of training your child into better bed time habits, it is much better to go back into the room and praise them, rather than wait till you are downstairs cooking supper and they call you back or come out of their rooms. We always recommend that in order to create a new habit you have to be there as the trainer. This may mean sitting outside the child’s bedroom reading a paper or book for 20 minutes or so, but it means you are far less resentful then having to leave the kitchen and head back upstairs and have your buttons pressed
- Training into new habits takes time…don’t expect perfection after just a few nights and do praise for any progress made
- Never use bed as a punishment/consequence
- Remember to recharge your own batteries- think of yourself as a chequeing account – once overdrawn it is not easy to be an effective parent.
If you like this blog and want to see more examples of Descriptive Praise for bedtimes, take a look at our Bedtime Battle publication which you can download from the website:
Here’s to sweet dreams and quality sleep.
09/02/2011 No Comments
As the recycling trucks take away the last bags of ripped wrapping paper and broken up boxes, homes are full of new toys and games. In the playgrounds, children are comparing notes about who got what, and, at home, they are busy determining which are destined to become much loved favourites and which will be gathering dust on the shelf.
After all the recent focus on presents, it’s interesting to read about some research from Cardiff University which concluded that 75% of 11-12 year olds rated spending time with their family, above spending time with friends or time alone. When asked what they enjoyed doing with their family, the children didn’t mention playing games or being taken shopping or on day-trips or outings. They talked about “routine” and “ordinariness” and about the feeling of “having someone around”. What the children seem to value is a time to rest and relax, with a sense of control and security, which they get from being WITH us, rather than being with friends, or indeed from having the latest gizmos, gadgets and games.
In our classes, we talk about making sure you spend some “Special Time” with each child at some point during the week. It needs only be 5-10 minutes, and it can take place at any time of the day and anywhere. The point that makes it “Special” is that is guaranteed and regular time with you – uninterrupted by anything or anyone. There are many benefits, but the beauty is the simplicity. You don’t have to do anything with them, just be with them. If there is a particular conversation or an activity, it’s at their urging and under their direction.
But I was still not sure I’m that great company for my children, until I asked my eldest (aged 10 years) what was good about the recent holidays, and the answer was “just being at home with you”. It surprised me, in the lovely way it does when you realise they sometimes know more and better than we do….. I asked what was so good about “just being at home” because personally “just being at home” can drive me mad….. And the response of “I like knowing you are here, and knowing where everything is and what is going to happen because I feel safe” very much confirmed the Cardiff University research.
Now, I don’t think my child feels particularly unsafe anywhere else. There are no signs to cause me any concern in this area. But I had not thought about it like this before. The world outside the front door really can be pretty big and scary, even when you’ve reached double digits, and I realise now I hugely underestimate the comfort and pleasure our home and my presence in it gives my children. I don’t always need to add anything particular – although being actively engaged with your child is always going to be something you wish you did more of. Sometimes I just have to be me and be here.
17/01/2011 No Comments
Is 2011 the year in which you want to get your children to eat more healthily?
With the New Year upon us we are sure that you will all be making some sort of New Year’s resolutions. They might be about losing weight, being a better parent or eating more healthily.
However, it is not likely that our children will be thinking about how to eat more healthily. So it’s down to us, as parents, to make that resolution for them. But, we also know that with the fervour of a new year, we can often be unrealistic about what changes we can make and the timeframe in which our goals can be achieved. As adults we all know that many drastic New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside by the end of January because they were simply unrealistic in the first place. They are even harder to keep when other people are involved.
Each household has its own unique dynamics in terms of work patterns, outside activities and eating habits. As such general advice about how to lead a healthier life is all well and good but it may not seem relevant or achievable in the context of your own family. We believe that if you want to change things in a family you need to take stock of where you are starting from, how committed you are to change and how much support or resistance you are likely to encounter. If you don’t take these individual factors into account at the start you are setting yourself up for failure.
No one said that getting children to eat healthily was easy. There are so many pressures out there which encourage unhealthy eating behaviour such as advertising, peer pressure, the drive for convenience and speed. No one wants to go head to head with their child on a meal by meal by meal basis. But the more you care about what your child eats, the more emotional the food issue can become. Some children can and do exploit this emotional dimension – either consciously or sub-consciously to exert influence and control in the home. They seem to know all the buttons to press to get you to react to what they are or are not eating. Food is so central to our lives and to our desire to nurture our family that it is bound to cause you anxiety if your child refuses to eat or will only eat a limited number of foods. There is often frustration if you have lovingly prepared a healthy meal from scratch only to see a turned up nose before the fork has left the plate. You would have to be pretty stoic not to take that as a personal rejection.
We have developed a workshop which helps you to focus on the specific food issues in your household and in particular for your children. We do not judge where you are starting from and we aim to support you to identify which changes will make the biggest difference to your child’s health and relationship with food. Setting realistic aims is an important first step – you can’t expect to change habits overnight if they have developed over years. We then suggest strategies you can try in order to help you to achieve your aims. It’s all about making sure you have the right resources to help you, such as short cut solutions to making healthy food; easy and child friendly recipes; star charts to reinforce and reward healthy eating; knowledge of how to make sense of labels and which convenience foods are better than others.
Lots of mums feed back to us that they do feel like a voice in the wilderness when it comes to getting the family to eat well. So it is important to enlist the support of other family members and to try to make the experience enjoyable. There is a lot of truth in the old adage that “the family that eats together, stays together”. If meal times are about more than just the food they can become another opportunity to communicate with your child and enjoy their company.
To find out more:
Recipe for Health are delivering another Healthy Eating workshop – Thursday 27th January 10-1pm – don’t miss out.
10/01/2011 No Comments
We are now well into January. The Christmas tree has been taken down, life is slowly getting back to normal and I’m feeling that this has been one of the best Christmas holidays ever! And, it’s not over yet! Just over 3 weeks into the holidays, and I’m getting a bit sad that my daughter will soon be heading back to school. As I think back to December 15th, I remember almost feeling a sense of dread that the holiday would be so long! Now, though as she is heading up to 8, she is a total joy to spend time with, and I have had a really great time playing, baking, reading, drawing … all the things that she loves to do. It was really a holiday where – inspired by the Diane Loomans poem, I decided to ‘stop playing serious, and seriously play’.
The holidays started with a magical blizzard, that left many people here in London stranded, unable to get their planned flights either out to see family, or heading somewhere warm. We were already planning on staying in London, as my Mum was coming to visit, so we could really enjoy the snow. During the weekend of the big blizzard, we were all out in the park building snowmen and had a great time throwing snowballs and making snow angels. Sadly for all those who were trying to reschedule flights, they didn’t necessarily see the fun side of the weather.
The snowy days brought to mind a Maya Angelou quote: You can tell a lot about a person about how they manage these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights. I would add to that, a dumping of snow while you’re stuck on an airplane on the runway at Heathrow not knowing whether you’re going to take off on that lovely trip – and with small children who are getting increasingly tired, hungry and bored. You can prepare all you like, but things can still go awry.
What can help you in those unpredictable moments is the ability to stay calm – almost surrendering to the fact that there is very little you can do to change the situation. About the only thing you have any control over is how you are going to approach it! You can go down many different routes: the complaining route (‘these airlines …’ ); the victim route (‘why does this have to happen to me?’); the practical route (attempting to make new travel arrangements); or the ‘let’s make this fun anyway’ route! Choosing to not get swept away by feelings of frustration and sadness about possibly missing out on your vacation, and actually choosing a more positive approach works on so many levels. First, there is the obvious benefit of having happier children. There is also the added bonus that your children are learning a great lesson about how to deal with situations when things don’t go swimmingly. If you’re able to stay calm and creatively deal with the challenges, you’re giving your children an amazing lesson in how to deal with the challenges that life will throw at them.
So now that the parks are green again, the Christmas cookies have all been eaten and the decorations put away for another year, I’ve decided to take on a renewed commitment to stay calm when life gets crazy, and to always remember to take time to seriously play! Happy New Year!
10/01/2011 No Comments
Have you committed to all those unrealistic New Year resolutions yet? Off to the gym 4 times a week in a burst to lose those excess festive pounds? Of course we all know that it’s a good idea to try to incorporate exercise into our daily routines as it’s more likely to get done that way and walking to school with your kids is ingraining in them some important values about exercise and fresh air I want to give walking a plug for two other equally important reasons. It’s good for your mental and emotional health and it’s really good at stimulating communication with your children.
At this time of year in the Northern hemisphere we need to wrap up warmer to beat the Nordic conditions and may feel slightly resistant to get outside (I hope I’m not the only wimp who feels that way) so I may need to make an awfully strong case for walking other than to the kettle in your kitchen. I’m advocating a therapeutic tool which is infinitely variable, completely free and offers side benefits in terms of physical health as well. I’m proposing a tool that can bring parents and children (and couples) closer together without any expert intervention or having to read any heavy tomes. This miracle solution helps unblock your mind when problem saturated, it helps you to see things more clearly, helps you gain perspective and a more positive outlook and it is an aid to developing important communication skills in your children. Anyway someone once said there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing.
On what basis do I make these fulsome claims? Well more learned (and certainly more famous) writers than I have cogitated upon this before. Nietzsche wrote that “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking” and he had some good thoughts. Henry Thoreau also apparently liked to amble as he said “Methinks the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” I’ve also had some good thoughts whilst in the shower or just as I’m about to go to sleep (those ones lost to oblivion unless I write them down there and then) but I have also had the experience that when something is troubling me I need to move. When I was studying at university I used to walk around the room with my notes in my hand. Some of us are quite kinaesthetic learners, meaning we learn best while moving. Try getting your child to move when doing any rote learning like spellings or tables or even more complicated thought processes.
Apart from the benefits of oxygen to the brain I think it’s just the repetitive movement of putting one foot in front of the other that helps stimulate the brain as well as getting away from the distracting environment of our homes. In any case, when my husband and I have a problem we find we need to leave the house (also our working environment) and walk to find a solution. When I’m upset or angry I find walking at a frenetic pace helps but if I’m sad or just thinking a more laconic amble works –my dogs are getting very sensitive to my moods! A good breeze can only assist in the head clearing process. Encourage and model walking for your kids as an effective emotional release.
I promised another great result from walking with your kids –communication. Learned psychologist and parenting author Steve Biddulph talks about the need for ‘sideways’ talk with boys and I would agree that boys especially, but not exclusively, prefer a style of communication which involves doing some activity alongside them rather than an eyeball to eyeball Deep and Meaningful. I find my boys open up more when we’re out walking than at any other time. We may talk about things that are troubling them or just things that interest them. My youngest has long conversations with my husband about history and politics and it gives me great pleasure to watch his stride outstripping his father’s as they chat about their shared interests.
When you walk and talk you have an opportunity to use a technique to build rapport which in Neuro Lingustic Programming is called ‘mirroring’. At its simplest level this merely involves matching your stride to the other person’s. As you get more expert you may swing your arms in rhythm, match head movements and ultimately synchronise your breathing to the other person’s –then you are in accord, even though the content of your conversation may involve disagreement.
So enjoy the great outdoors and absorb all the therapeutic, creative and communication benefits as well as noticing the details of the change of season and burning a few calories!
05/01/2011 No Comments
On the final night of the X-Factor last weekend, what struck me most was the tears of pride of the winner’s father as he said to his son “We always knew you could do it”.
Whatever you may think about Matt Cardle, his parents have always believed in him…. What an amazing feeling that belief must be ,and it’s taken him a long way and his gratitude to his parents was evident.
We all believe our children are wonderful – most of the time, anyway!
But do we always get that message across to them? Do they believe that we believe in them?
From day-to-day activities to ambitions for the future, children often hear “No, not like that” or “I don’t think that’s going to work”.
Of course, as parents we have to juggle many roles – safety officer, construction instructor, fashion advisor, chief banker, chauffeur and Head Chef – but it is all too easy to fall into the negative trap of pointing out what they do wrong, rather than focussing on what they do right, or looking at the end product, rather than the effort and attitude that created it.
Anyone who has come to our class on Descriptive Praise will know how we can avoid this – and nurture and develop our children’s self-esteem and their growing understanding of who they are.
But knowing you are believed in, is more than simply growing up in a positive atmosphere.
Knowing others believe in you is how you learn to believe in yourself.
This knowledge is what makes it possible to try new things, and get involved in life and develop the passions and hobbies that ultimately form part of your identity.
As parents we naturally move to protect our children from disappointment. But, over time, real life will affect and shape their future and rather than crush emerging hopes and ambitions, we need to empower them to cope with real life.
Real life has already taught my elder son that he will never work with the Fat Controller on the Island of Sodor. And my younger son has quietly moved on from his assertion that he would, one day, become a penguin. They never needed me to tell them it wasn’t going to happen. And they certainly don’t hold it against me that I let reality dawn and didn’t shatter their dreams.
The penguin theme remains strong in our house, but now, my younger son is throwing his energy into science because he hopes to travel to Antarctica to build a new ice-floe for the threatened Gentoo species. And my older son is planning to fly across the Channel in a pedal-powered airplane with a group of other 10-year olds.
The problem with the latter, is that it’s turned out to be a real-life project being run in Spring 2011 by real-life aeronautical engineers . Good thing I didn’t dismiss it and him when he first told me about it! Because now when they safely land on the French coast, I can say to him “I always knew you had great innovative ideas” and he will believe me.
17/12/2010 No Comments
What kind of so-called parenting experts say don’t call your child clever? Since the sixties haven’t we been exhorted to extol the virtues of our children ad nauseam in the hope of building self esteem and encouraging desirable behaviours? When we want them to feel good about themselves we say well done darling, good girl. And if we think they’re not buying it or we really want to big them up we say ‘fantastic, marvellous, brilliant –you are so clever.’ What’s wrong with that?
Well, usually we say to parents that if they want their kids to have good self esteem and all the positive outcomes that go with that then we need to focus on what children do right more often than what they get wrong. Every parent knows this even though we sometimes have difficulty doing it –like when you’re trying to get them all out of the house and one is on a ‘go slow’ and the other two are complaining that they have to breathe the same air and you can’t find your car keys and NOBODY has got their shoes on!
But even when things are a little calmer we still feel an overwhelming urge to point out what’s wrong with what they’re doing. We’re not bad people but we’ve had decades of conditioning so forgive us if we mistakenly believe we need to highlight what they’ve done wrong in order to help them learn. In fact when we do that the children are apt to tune us out and lose their natural motivation to improve and to learn. So yes we do need to focus on the positives and praise our children. In fact the ratio of positive to ‘improving’ should be about 9:1. John Gottman is a researcher who did a lot of work in the area of couples’ relationships. He found that there are a number of criticisms compared to praises beyond which a marriage crumbles, and that number is one (1) criticism to five (5) praises. That’s right. The minimum to keep a marriage off the rocks is 1 bad:5 good. While you’re trying to remember when you last said something positive to your partner I would add that in the case of children parents should be praising even more frequently because we are actively trying to shape our children’s behaviour and form their characters. I would assert therefore that we parents should give 9 praises for every criticism/improving comment/correction / just pointing out what could be done differently.
So I’m clearly in favour of praise. But why can’t I tell my child he’s clever? Because he is you know –or at least I want him to do well. How can it hurt? In the past I would have said that any praise was better than none. But even then I would have admitted that there’s a good chance your child is not going to believe you when you say he’s clever so your words lose impact. We have always advocated using praise which is specific and descriptive to make it more credible and give the child enough information to allow them to repeat the positive behaviour on which you’re focusing. We would have said ‘clever girl’ isn’t a very effective form of praise but not actually harmful. And then I discovered some research by a psychologist in the US, Carol Dweck, that has made me even more careful about my choice of words when acknowledging children. Her research has shown that evaluative praise of this kind can actually be detrimental.
Professor Dweck’s findings show that the way adults praise children can determine whether they develop what she calls a ‘growth mindset’ or a ‘fixed mindset’. Her research was looking at motivation and perseverance in the face of set backs. Why do some people give up in the face of failure and others try again –it has to do, not surprisingly, with their beliefs about why they had failed. If you believe you failed because of lack of ability you are more inclined to give up than if you think the failure was down to lack of effort. Surely that’s an argument for telling kids they are able in order to motivate them?
Over the years Dweck developed a theory that learners could be classified as helpless vs mastery oriented. The former believe that intelligence is a fixed trait: you have only a certain amount, and that’s that. “I call this a ‘fixed mind-set’. Mistakes crack their self-confidence because they attribute errors to a lack of ability, which they feel powerless to change. They avoid challenges because challenges make mistakes more likely and looking smart less so….The mastery-oriented children, on the other hand, think intelligence is malleable and can be developed through education and hard work. They want to learn above all else.… Because slipups stem from a lack of effort, not ability, they can be remedied by more effort.”
So how does praise affect this belief system? Contrary to adults’ good intentions when they praise, telling someone they are smart or clever actually contributes to the ‘fixed mindset’ whereas praising a child for trying hard or persevering focuses on the effort they’re making and allows them to develop a ‘growth mindset’. Dweck’s work with children in schools showed that confronted by a setback such as a disappointing test grade, students with a growth mind-set said they would study harder or try a different strategy for mastering the material. The students who held a fixed mind-set, however, were concerned about looking smart with little real regard for learning. They had negative views of effort, believing that having to work hard at something was a sign of low ability. They thought that a person with talent or intelligence did not need to work hard to do well. Attributing a bad grade to their own lack of ability, those with a fixed mind-set said that they would study less in the future, try never to take that subject again and consider cheating on future tests.
So how do we encourage a ‘growth mindset’ in our children? Show them examples of effort producing good results in your own modelling, in stories about other people but above all in their own endeavours. Praise them for not giving up, for trying a different strategy in the face of defeat, for working hard and practising, for improving and don’t focus so much on the outcome or achievement. If they do well in a test say “You must be really pleased -that’s a reflection of all the hard work you put in”. Above all never ever praise your child for being clever.
23/11/2010 No Comments
80% of parenting is modelling. It’s a really scary thought for most parents that eighty per cent of the teaching we do, eighty percent of the learning our children get in the family, most of what they imbibe and take on as values comes from them watching what we model and copying us! There may be a handful of parents who are relaxed about this having a clean conscience about their language, their attitudes, their manners and other behaviours. But for many of us this is a really pressurising idea. Especially if you consider all the possible areas our children may be subconsciously absorbing values that we didn’t intend to pass on to them.
When my children were little I despaired of them ever learning what I regarded as ‘nice’ table manners because I thought my husband, not me, was such a poor role model in this area. (Lovely as he was and is in many other ways.) But there were so many other areas where I wasn’t remotely aware that I was modelling behaviours. For example what attitudes do we model? When something is hard do we give up? I know if I have an IT issue or I reach the tiniest obstacle with something electronic I’ll wait till my husband can deal with it. (I told you he was nice). What am I teaching my kids – that there are areas that are completely beyond my expertise and I’m not going to try to improve but instead I’ll avoid dealing with those issues?
Still on the subject of attitudes what do you do when you get a parking ticket? (A very common occurrence in Wandsworth where I live.) Do you berate yourself for being such a fool for not putting enough money in the parking meter; do you say Daddy will be so cross that’s the third one this month; do you say don’t tell Daddy? If so what are we modelling for our children about dealing with mistakes? Are we teaching them that mistakes diminish us rather than being an opportunity for learning and should be covered up?
What about language? Have you ever heard your child on the phone sounding exactly like you? When I rang my five year old nephew recently he was very chatty and said “and how’s the family” in tones that sounded just like his mother! These are the positives of course. But how many of us emit an expletive or two in the hearing of our children and then get cross with them for doing the same? How do we handle our feelings? When I’m sad do I mooch around with a hang dog expression listlessly, sighing and finding it hard to get on with life. When I’m angry do I put others down or criticise or resort to sarcasm? What do I do when my self esteem is low? Do I do something to boost it or give up and withdraw? When I’m fed up with my kids do I tell them how rotten they are? If my children are fighting with each other do I smack the one I see as the perpetrator? What does smacking model? Is it telling my children that when they’re adults they too will be able to use their power to hurt but they’re not allowed to hit their brother now? When someone has upset me do I speak rationally to the person concerned or do I bottle up my feelings or explode? Do they see you resolving conflict well? Do they know you’ve made up with your partner after a fight and do they learn how you resolved things?
If you’re feeling a bit sick by now keep reading as it gets better.
If I want my children to develop good social skills what am I modelling around that? Do we all eat together at the table having conversations? Do they see me with my friends? Do they hear me talking positively about friends and family or do they get a litany of complaints? How you talk about your parents is how they’ll talk about you in adulthood!
What about lifestyle? We all know how important it is to encourage our children to eat well and take exercise and get enough sleep but what do they see us doing in these areas? Is your breakfast a cup of strong coffee and do they hear that you were up half the night? Do you exercise with your kids or on your own where there don’t see it? How do you talk to your kids about your own body shape and that of others? Do you moan about your own ‘deficiencies’ or make fun of others?
Do your kids ever see you reading? Do you discuss the contents of your book with them?
And what about the things that will affect them in the future? What do they see your work/life balance as?
I said it would get better. The good news is that as soon as our awareness is raised about these issues we’ve already taken a step forward. We start to think about what we do in front of the children. One of the most useful aspects of the parenting course I took 13 years ago was spending time each week working out what values I wanted to pass on to my children. At The Parent Practice we focus on this a lot.
Sometimes it’s just a case of making our children aware of the good things we’re doing that we want them to learn from such as kindnesses that we wouldn’t normally broadcast but we need to articulate to our children so that they can learn from it. When playing games with children we recommend you articulate your thought processes like this: oh no I’ve drawn a bad card! Never mind. I won’t make a fuss. Maybe I’ll get a good one next hand. Yes you will feel like a dork but your children are learning good lessons from this.
Sometimes of course it means curbing our bad habits or at least being conscious of not parading them in front of the children. Knowing the following facts about smoking (along with all the other ones you already know) may give you a bit extra incentive to give up. Children of parents who smoke:
- Are twice as likely to take up smoking.
- Assume that cigarette smoking is an acceptable way to handle stress and boredom. They see you do it all the time.
- Develop a positive attitude toward smoking.
- Are more tolerant of the unpleasant effects of cigarette smoke, such as odours, stained teeth and small burns on the carpet and furniture.
Once we’re aware of the influence we have we can consciously set out to influence our children. Michael Grinder, communications expert, says “The power of influence is greater than the influence of power”. Sometimes our children are not copying the things we’d like them to. And for that there is the other 20% of parenting – we need some positive and effective parenting tools like using rules constructively, setting things up so that our children are likely to behave well, motivating them to do the right thing, understanding the causes of behaviour and responding effectively when they don’t. Sometimes it doesn’t seem as if our children are learning anything in the moment but it may be years later that your children show they have taken on your values. For the record my kids’ table manners are fine now.
11/11/2010 3 Comments